Work-life conflict occurs when individuals, at any level within an organization, find their roles within the workplace and outside it are overwhelming to them or interfering with one another.
Poor work-life balance can directly negatively impact an individual’s mental health and it can also hinder the prevention and management of mental illness.
Work-life balance falls directly into PSR 11, Balance, from the Guarding Minds @ Work list. It is defined as “a work environment where there is recognition of the need for balance between the demands of work, family and personal life.” Poor work-life balance can directly impact an individual’s mental health and mental illness prevention and management. A recent study found a significantly higher prevalence of anxiety and depression in employees who work more than 49 hours per week. There may be periods when employees may have to work more than their normal hours however, this should not become a constant expectation.
Not all employees will have the same work-life balance issues. Baby Boomers will most likely have different issues than Generation Y employees. Age, cultural, gender, family and marital status, care-giver demands, socioeconomic status and many other factors affect an employee’s work-life balance. Those same factors can also influence how individuals are affected by demands. Everyone responds differently to stress. What creates a serious problem for one employee may not be felt in the same way by colleagues.
To help employees achieve/maintain a sense of work/life balance, Health Canada suggests that employers:
- Identify ways of reducing employee workloads. Special attention needs to be given to reducing the workloads of managers and professionals in all sectors. Employees should be asked for suggestions – they often are in the best position to identify ways of streamlining work.
- Reduce reliance on both paid and unpaid overtime by employees.
- Recognize and reward overtime work.
- Reduce job-related travel time for employees.
- Make alternative work arrangements more widely available within the organization. These might include flex-time or the opportunity to work at home for part of the work week.
- Give employees the opportunity to say “no” when asked to work overtime. Saying “no” should not be a career-limiting move. Employees should not have to choose between having a family and career advancement.
- Examine work expectations, rewards and benefits through a “life-cycle” lens (i.e. what employees are able to do and motivated to do and what rewards and benefits they desire will change with each life-cycle stage).
More examples of strategies, programs and activities to improve work-life balance are available in the Examples of workplace mental health strategies, programs and activities section.
Case Study: work-life balance at Northwood Technologies
Situation: Northwood Technologies software company is trying to create a culture where quality work can be accomplished in the context of a quality life.
Action: The company introduced flexible workplace schedules, telecommuting opportunities and the chance to volunteer in the community during the work day. It organized a variety of healthy groups, including a walking club, running club and a badminton club. This was all done in an office of 85 people.
Result: Employees are less stressed and more content with their workplace because of reduced work-life conflict.
To read the whole case study visit http://www.hrsdc.gc.ca/eng/lp/spila/wlb/ell/11northwood_technologies.shtml.
- Work-Life Balance, by Health Canada, includes information regarding the benefits and costs of work-life balance to employers and to the community; a section offering concrete and practical implementation and management tools; experience and lessons learned by individuals and organizations; successful and innovative practices; definitions and descriptions of individual workplace programs, policies and practices; answers to frequently asked questions on work-life balance; and a section of Research and Documents. See http://www.hrsdc.gc.ca/eng/lp/spila/wlb/06worklife_balance.shtml.
- Cost-Benefit Review of Work-Life Balance Practices: This document outlines the different types of work-life balance practices and it provides information on how to calculate the return on investment for an organization. See http://www.caall-acalo.org/docs/Cost-Benefit%20Review.pdf.
- Better Balance, Better Business: Options for Work-life Issues is a booklet by Alberta Human Resources and Employment. It provides strategies for improving work-life balance through providing new flexible workplace options. See http://www.alis.gov.ab.ca/pdf/cshop/betterbalance.pdf.
- Work-Life Balance, by the CMHA, is a resource page filled with articles, websites, fact sheets and quizzes about work-life balance. See http://www.cmha.ca/bins/content_page.asp?cid=2-1841&lang=1.
 Chris Higgins and Linda Duxbury. “The 2001 National Work-Life Conflict Study: Report One,” Health Canada, (2002) http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/publicat/work-travail/report1/index-eng.php (accessed December 1, 2009).
 Chris Higgins and Linda Duxbury. “Key Findings and Recommendations from The 2001 National Work-Life Conflict Study,” Health Canada, (2009) http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/ewh-semt/pubs/occup-travail/balancing_six-equilibre_six/index-eng.php (accessed December 1, 2009).
 Government of Canada. Human Resources and Skills Development Canada. 2001. Corporate profiles: Northwood Technologies.” http://www.hrsdc.gc.ca/eng/lp/spila/wlb/ell/11northwood_technologies.shtml.